E-learning on a Global Basis


In today’s global economy, many corporations are searching for ways to not only communicate their message to the four corners but also how to train and educate employees in other countries who are not fluent in English. The latter entails managing their training and educational content.

Launching a global learning strategy is not easy. An effective learning strategy gets all employees — no matter where they’re situated on the globe — on the same page and all working at top efficiency. Certainly, because of the almost worldwide availability of high-speed Internet connections, e-learning is then well-equipped to handle many training and educational functions.

“For effective content globalization, companies need to integrate content translation with other enterprise language management functions,” says Jim Howard, CEO of CrownPeak Technology.

Take it from another Jim Howard — he of Yum! brands — who says that two extremely important questions need to be answered before formulating your approach:

1) Does the company really need a global strategy? Why? To reinforce corporate culture? To provide a consistent vocabulary, tools and business approaches? To drive efficiencies and effect of the universal learning function by formalizing it? To identify resources for talent development around the world?

2) Who else in the organization knows this? Needs this? Peers and executives who will provide the business data to develop and measure the new program? Stakeholders to provide the social network to assist formal and informal adoption of the programs?

“Global organizations are already complex, as is,” the latter Howard notes. “And a global learning strategy will be impacted by other complex factors like company size, awareness across the enterprise, role clarification, and vendor selection issues and management.”

More factors that will determine the effectiveness of global learning strategies include: flexibility of team and business units, execution, economy of scale, speed and governance.

The two most obvious solutions to the problem of training a global workforce are (1) “localizing” content (including, but not limited to, translating e-learning courses into the native language of foreign workers) or (2) teaching non-English-speaking employees English. The more popular is localization.

Option 1: Localization

Localization requires converting the text and multimedia components intended for one audience to material that is digestible for a completely different audience. Besides translation, you must take into account date and time formats, how to express numbers, currency symbols, and so forth. While translating, you must retain a sensitivity to cultural differences, in some isolated cases, even regional dialects.

“Culture is a deep-rooted facet of the people of every nation or region, and the way to communicate effectively will be built around these cultural practices and beliefs, of which language usage forms an integral part,” says Armando Riquier, a veteran writer and translator with Tectrad. “Carefully rendered business translation services capture the essential meaning of the original text both in letter and in spirit, and also deliver the missive in a way that appeals to the reader. It is a complex process, involving translation, transcoding and localization.”

In order to fully reap the benefits of e-learning, a program can go a step farther than localization, to an operation called “internationalization,” which makes a program or Web service application aware of, and able to support, multiple languages. The programs are freed from only calling English strings and from other English-specific processes, and are instead connected to generic ways of doing things. Tools such as a multilingual glossary builder and style guidelines ensure that your translation service translates technical and subject-specific phrases accurately the first time and every time.

On the Website Gadgetopia.com, four disciplines of e-learning content management are identified: modeling; creating and editing; management; and publishing. Language translation fits into the third stage.

 “When a company decides to translate material, it has already created a general framework for organizing content and has written and finalized the original content,” notes Betty Carlson on the Website www.languagetranslation.com. “Language translation is an action involved in keeping this content relevant, current, effective, and under control.”

Translation of source content to target languages is a business-critical function for multinational corporations and publishers. It is expensive and time-consuming, especially if you are starting from scratch or if you are reviewing or translating more than just the components that have changed. But managing master language and translated content under an integrated workflow can speed translation, approval and delivery of content in multi-language environments.

Component content management (CCM) is perhaps the most efficient approach to localization. It, in effect, allows for translating only sections of content that immediately need to be translated, rather than whole documents. Bill Trippe of The Gilbane Group lists these advantages of CCM:

>> Ability to deliver a growing number of content formats from a common base of content.
>> Ability to reuse content modules across content products, leading to greater consistency and improved quality.
>> Ability to lower cost of editorial and production operations even as content development requirements grow in volume and complexity.
>> Ability to build a base of well-organized and tightly managed content that lends itself to efficient translation and localization operations.

“Organizations with mature CCM implementations are beginning to leverage these technologies in other business domains,” says Trippe. “These areas included customer support, help desk, training, and trouble-shooting applications.”

Option 2: Teaching English

Until recently, the tools available for teaching a foreign language were pretty much limited to audio cassettes, dictionaries and books, often making the task dreary and arduous.

With the official adoption of English as the language for international business, there are more than 1 billion people studying ESL (English as a Second Language) today. In a recent survey, 91 percent of 10,000 employees around the globe said that English is required or important to accomplish their job requirements. Only 7 percent of those surveyed said that their current level of English proficiency was sufficient.

“The rapid base of communication within organizations and real-time communications with new technology like VoIP really create a demand not only for translation, but people understanding live conversations and even e-mail,” says Deepak Desai of GlobalEnglish. “If overseas employees are not able to understand English and respond to it, there’s a huge productivity drain.”
The productivity drain is particularly evident when e-learning programs to distant offices are not understandable.

“The scale of the problem is so big that it’s not just about training the executive staff, but at all levels and all geographies,” Desai continues. “In the past, people would go to a language school or learning center with live teachers, but that’s not affordable in the business context. That’s why, in part, having a browser-based service is so compelling. The PC and the Internet are great appliances for language learning, because they allow for a lot of listening and speaking.”

Other Considerations

While Option 1 (localization) can reap immediate benefits, Option 2 (teaching ESL) is a long-term project whose benefits will only be evident in small increments as non-English-speaking employees become more comfortable communicating in English.

Be advised that — if you choose Option 1 — this article just barely touches on the issues you’ll be facing when globalizing your e-learning programs and localizing content.

Certainly, the services that you’ll require go beyond mere translation. They include software and online help engineering, desktop publishing and pre-press print-ready services, multimedia language production, quality management, and/or full-project management. Depending on existing equipment involved, you may be required to supply e-learning materials in Windows, Macintosh, Linux and/or Unix environments. If podcasts and video lectures are a component of your e-learning program, competent multi-lingual talent (presenters) also must be found.
Option 1 or Option 2? — neither is a small task.

‘The way to communicate effectively will be built around cultural practices and beliefs, of which language usage forms an integral part.’
—Armando Riquier, Tectrad

‘The PC and the Internet are great appliances for language learning, because they allow for a lot of listening and speaking.’
—Deepak Desai, GlobalEnglish

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